Sustainability and Digitalization -
a European Perspective

OVERVIEW

If we’re building a truly sustainable future, then digitalization is vital to us meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, combating climate change, and minimizing our environmental impact.


Prof. Daniel Lang, Leuphana University Lüneburg, introduces the project

HOW WE WORK

Methods, Structure, and Background

The methods, structure, and background for creating common understanding across digitalization and sustainability: If we’re building a truly sustainable future, then digitalization is vital to us meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, combating climate change, and minimizing our environmental impact.

Digitalization and sustainability are two essential disciplines to ensure progress:

  • Digitalization (and digital transformation) revolutionizes how we live, work, and interact, both now and in the future, creating opportunities, efficiencies, and integrations.

  • Sustainability gives insight into why we choose to live as we do, what the world might look like in the future, and how to get there.

Digital transformation provides the means to get to a better future, while sustainability guides us on why we want to achieve it. Neither can be accomplished in isolation.

Despite this need for partnership between the two disciplines, there is currently a lack of interaction between leaders and stakeholders in the respective communities. 

The project, “Sustainability and Digitalization - A European Perspective”' supports and promotes discussions between stakeholders. These discussions will establish a common understanding and suggest practical ways forward to help sustainability and digitalization work in partnership.

ABOUT THE PROJECT

Information about the Project and the Roundtables

Benefits of Linking Sustainability and Digitalization

There is a huge appetite for digital transformation across countries, governments, corporations, businesses, and individuals. This desire for improvement can be used to drive sustainability policies and initiatives, particularly in:

  • Mitigating the risks of climate change and a warming planet.

  • Protecting the environment and vulnerable ecosystems.

  • Allowing for human development and dignity in harmony with the environment.

  • Reducing the risks of human displacement and climate refugees.

These needs are urgent, and driving greater collaboration is foundational for progress.

Aims of the Project

Sustainability and Digitalization - A European Perspective aims to:

  • Create and facilitate roundtable and discussion groups between selected experts in the areas of digitalization and sustainability.

  • Establish a joint understanding of common challenges and opportunities across both fields.

  • Focus on practical, targeted, solution-oriented discussions.

  • Discuss topics from a social, organizational, and individual learning perspective.

  • Discuss the potential risks, benefits, opportunities, and drawbacks of digital transformation and sustainability.

  • Communicate the outcomes of the conversations.

Our ideal outcomes are to:

  • Promote increased, ongoing cooperation between digitalization and sustainability stakeholders and communities.

  • Stimulate scientific, political, and civil discourse, both within the scope of the project and beyond.

  • Share thinking, findings, and outcomes with the general public to increase awareness and engagement.

Structure and Topics for Discussion

The project holds roundtables and discussion groups based on the following framework:

  • There are six roundtables in all, each focusing on a different topic.

  • Each roundtable has approximately eight participants.

  • Findings from the six roundtables are consolidated, reviewed, and refined in a hybrid

The topics cover the commonalities and differences between sustainability and digital transformation as follows.

You can find details of each event at the links below. On these pages you will learn about:

  • The title, facilitators, and date of the relevant roundtable.

  • The key concepts and questions for each roundtable.

  • The context and supporting information for each roundtable.

  • The results and takeaways for each roundtable.

Background and Context for the Project

Implementing the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development requires a fundamental transformation of our society and economy. In its flagship report “Our Common Digital Future,” the German Advisory Council on Global Change states that digital transformation must be actively shaped to ensure a sustainable future.

Digitalization opens up new possibilities for future development while raising interesting questions:

  • What sustainability goals can be achieved through digital transformation?

  • What opportunities can digitization provide as we work towards sustainability?

  • What are the risks involved in digital transformation, especially if it is not properly monitored?

  • What interventions, integrations, and collaborations are needed?

  • But what interventions and collaborations does this require?

Collectively, we’re only just beginning to answer these questions.

PARTNERS

Cooperating Partners, Institutions, and Sponsors

This project is financed by the Robert Bosch Stiftung Foundation and is a partnership and joint effort between researchers at four institutions:

Leuphana University Lüneburg, Institute for Sustainable Development and Learning (ISDL)

The Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society

The German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU)

The Robert Bosch Foundation (RBS)

The WBGU produced the report “Towards our Common Digital Future.” The project and events are jointly supported by these institutions and each partner takes on roles and responsibilities and contributes specific expertise as follows.

Leuphana University Lüneburg, Institute for Sustainable Development and Learning (ISDL)

The ISDL is a central, cross-faculty institution at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg. The aim of the ISDL is to research and support transdisciplinary learning processes for sustainable development.

ISDL’s primary responsibilities within the project are to:

  • Plan the content of each event.

  • Cooperate with the partner institutes to select event participants.

  • Manage the entire project and provide oversight.

  • Document and process the results of the events.

  • Provide hosting, co-hosting, and moderation for discussions.

Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society

The Weizenbaum Institute examines emerging social changes connected to digitalization and outlines political and economic options. The Weizenbaum Institute’s primary responsibilities within the project are to:

  • Provide expertise and context for digitalization.

  • Identify and invite suitable participants.

  • Encourage the transfer of knowledge.

The Robert Bosch Foundation (RBS)

RBS supports sustainability research programs that:

  • Research and understand social developments.

  • Maximize scientific potential.

  • Develop innovative technologies.

  • Provide a context and basis for political decision-making.

  • Support different social and economic approaches to sustainability.

RBS’s primary responsibilities are to fund the project. More details of the project are available on the RBS website.

The funding period for the project runs from December 1, 2019 to May 31, 2021.

German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU)

The WBGU and Robert Bosch Stiftung Foundation (RBS) promote and support scientific approaches and pilot projects that may be overlooked by traditional science funding.
The WBGU produced the report “Towards our Common Digital Future.”

RBS and the WBGU jointly sponsored the study “Digitalization and Sustainability,” which provides a strong foundation for the roundtable series.

Discussions will be informed by the new report of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU 2019), as well as further preliminary work from our partner institutions:

  • RBS (e.g. Sühlmann-Faul and Rammler 2018)

  • Faculty of Sustainability of Leuphana University of Lüneburg (e.g. Heinrichs 2013)

  • Weizenbaum Institute

  • WBGU (e.g. WBGU 2018). 

Digitalization and sustainability are increasingly important in Germany and around the world. Close cooperation with partner institutions ensures a common approach for developing initiatives and projects. The WBGU main report and the 2018 RBS study provide a comprehensive review of the current state-of-play. These provide the ideal conditions for this series of roundtables to expand and enrich what already exists in a sustainable way.